Peasant Fires: The Drummer of Niklashausen

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Indiana University Press, 1992 - History - 156 pages
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“A gem of a book. . . . It has a plot, good guys and bad guys, it opens up a ‘strange’ world, and it is exceptionally well written. This is the first time that I have seen anywhere this story told with as much sensitivity and care for the world of the peasant and its religious culture.” —Thomas W. Robisheaux One night in 1476 in the small southern German town of Niklashausen, an illiterate shepherd and street musician by the name of Hans Behem had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin told him to burn his drum in a bonfire of the vanities and preach at the village church the virtues of a life of poverty and devotion to God. In a short time, great crowds of peasants and common folk from all over Germany were coming to hear “The Drummer” preach, and Niklashausen became the object of a massive pilgrimage. His sermons became more and more radical; the authorities were alarmed. In the middle of the night, Hans was arrested by knights of the local bishop and imprisoned in the bishop’s fortress. About twelve thousand of his followers tried to free him, but they were quickly repulsed by cannon fire and knights on horseback. Hans was burned at the stake. This incident has become emblematic of the conflicts between the wealthy rulers—church and state—and the peasants and common people of medieval Europe and has been presented as a precursor of the massive peasant revolts of the next century. Richard Wunderli sets the pieces of the story that are known to historians into their cultural, religious, and political context. He explores important questions about the period and about historical memory that will interest both the general reader and students of the period.

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Peasant fires: the drummer of Niklashausen

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Wunderli (history, Univ. of Colorado) recounts the tragic story of Hans Behem, a peasant shepherd of the German village of Niklashausen, in 1476. Behem, following instructions received in a vision of ... Read full review


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About the author (1992)

RICHARD WUNDERLI is Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and author of London Church Courts and Society on the Eve of the Reformation.

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